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Lighted pillars will point way to restored locks of Lockport

LOCKPORT – A makeover soon will begin on Canal Street in Lockport, and with it, more attention will be given to the Flight of Five locks being restored as a tourist attraction.

Lighted limestone pillars standing 10 feet tall will be constructed at each end of the pedestrian-only street.

A new sidewalk. And benches, too.

The lighted pillars will point out the presence of the canal, and the hope is that is that more people will be drawn to the Erie Canal below the street.

“The whole purpose is to draw attention to that area,” said Brian M. Smith, city planning and development director. “We hear all the time from people who drive over the Big Bridge and Main Street and don’t even know the locks are there.”

The Common Council has awarded the $322,000 construction contract for the project to Scott Lawn Yard of Sanborn, and the city Planning Board gave final approval to the design Monday.

Money for the project comes from the Niagara River Greenway fund and the state Dormitory Authority.

“There’s a lot of strategy around the whole design, facilitating raising awareness of the whole Locks District,” said David R. Kinyon, president of the Lockport Locks Heritage District Corp.

The project also includes replacing sidewalks with some pavers that will be inscribed with the numbers of the locks in the Flight of Five, the 19th-century locks being restored to working order. The state Canal Corp. officially calls the Flight of Five Locks 67 through 71.

Locks 69 and 70 were restored in 2014 as a tourist attraction, and work will begin this year on the restoration of Lock 68, Kinyon said. Lock 71 is the one at the top of the stair-like set of locks, and Lock 67 is at the bottom.

When the canal first opened in 1825 and for 89 years thereafter, boats were moved through five locks, first made of wood and later of limestone, to climb or descend the Niagara Escarpment at Lockport.

In 1914, the Flight was replaced by two giant steel locks, still used today, and the Flight became a mere spillway for water displaced by the bigger locks.

The Canal Street project will include the installation of eight new benches. Four of them, each 12 feet long, will be modeled on the long wooden balance beams used to open and close the original lock gates, Smith said. That means one end will be narrower than the other.

The original Canal Street gateway plan included an arch over the street, but that was scrapped by the Flight of Five interpretive committee because it didn’t draw enough attention, Kinyon said.

The Locks Heritage District Corp. is planning a major public art work near the locks, a re-creation in bronze statues of a locally famous photograph of 15 lock tenders from the late 19th century. Kinyon said it will cost almost $1 million to have Youngstown sculptor Susan Geissler create 15 statues.

“We’re still exploring different funding sources,” Kinyon said. He called the lock tender tribute “our top priority.”